Of all the natural disasters that man has to deal with, Earthquakes hold a special fear. Storms, whether a hurricane coming in from the ocean or a tornado roaring across the plains usually offers some warning, and most folks know what to do to seek cover. Earthquakes on the other hand come out of nowhere with no warning and most people either freeze in place or run wildly, not knowing what to do. For thousands of years they have been blamed on God. No doubt because many times they are directly related to a volcano erupting and exploding causing death and destruction, or the Earth unexpectedly opens up swallowing homes and people. The Bible book of Matthew sites earthquakes as a sign of the "last days".
Kansan's are a tough group made up of a core that has ties to the farm. When a band of thunderstorms roar through in the spring threatening tornados many don't give it a lot of thought. We are used to them. The farmers are just hoping that there isn't bad hail and are thankful for the rain they bring. But you let a trembler come through that someone in California wouldn't even pause for if they were in the middle of a sentence, and we'll talk about that for weeks. Face it, earthquakes in Kansas, that's just weird.
So why would a home inspector write about earthquakes? Well, there was an article recently on www.drudgereport.com that sited an article from Wichita, Kan which had a quote from officials at the US Geological Survey that said we here in Kansas better get ready for more. So I thought it might be helpful to provide some information about our homes and businesses that in the event of a major earthquake may be of some help. The internet is loaded with information so I encourage everyone to do some research, educate yourself.
Concerning your home, the main cause of injury and death during an earthquake is being struck or buried by falling debris. An earthquake comes so suddenly and lasts such a short period of time there is simply little time to think. You need to take the time and look at your surroundings and decide what could fall and injure you. Naturally TV's, bookshelves, large dressers, pictures, and so on can fall and hurt us. As far as your house itself is concerned it may be the opposite of what you think. If something looks solid and strong such as brick or rock, that is generally the most dangerous. An earthquake causes things to sway and shake and that is exactly what takes down masonry structures, so If you have a brick or stone house or fireplace stay clear of those areas. A brick wall or fireplace 8 feet tall can cause damage or injury twice that distance or 16 feet out. If you live in an older home with plaster walls and ceilings immediately seek refuge in a doorway or if you have time get out. Falling Plaster can come off ceilings and walls in big heavy pieces that can cause severe injury. Construction has changed over the years. Houses have gotten lighter, moving away from things such as plaster walls to drywall. Drywall is at least thirty percent lighter than when it first came out and stronger. Steel beams have been replaced by wooden Laminate beams. Studies have proven that this type of construction fares much better in earthquakes. Many are surprised to learn that modern houses are actually to a degree flexible. A house may sway and rock, drywall may split and separate, glass may break, but usually the structure remains standing. A typical residential house has a much better survival rate as does a concrete block and brick commercial building.
What you should do to your home:
Make sure your house is securely fastened to the foundation. I have been in many houses that have the foundation bolts in place but the washers and nuts were never installed. Check siding to make sure it is properly nailed. Check decks to make sure they are fastened to the house properly and screws or nails added as necessary. Basically what we are talking about is just standard home maintenance.
There is a lot of information about earthquakes in Kansas. One website is KGS-Kansas Earthquakes. Another site that covers Kansas as well as other areas is www.earthquaketrack.com. I appreciate any questions or comments about my articles you may have. Please feel free to contact me.
I have held a wastewater systems installer's license for years and have installed and repaired many Septic systems over the years. Some may wonder why, since I have the knowledge of Septic systems, would I make the statement that Home Inspectors should not inspect septic systems, and yes, I am including myself. I'll get right to the point.
The typical way that inspectors use to inspect a system is to flush a dye, run water into the system and look for the dye to surface in the lateral field. The only way to properly inspect a system is to pump out the tank and visually inspect it. The lateral lines should be located and inspected.
Each year, thousands of dollars are spent on dye tests. If you're told to get a dye test you need to understand what it can and can't do, and what it will and won't tell you. Read on, and when you're through, tell the person recommending that you get a test to read this as well. As mentioned the dye test method uses a non-toxic colorant or dye that is introduced into the system. Then, the evaluator walks the property looking for signs of the dye. Since the average retention time for a 1000 gallon tank is three days, basing what you see or don't see in one day is usually meaningless. To make trips back to the property over the next three days to see if there are any signs of the dye is a "shot in the dark" at best. If the dye does surface in the field you have to be able to spot it through the vegetation over about a 3000 square foot area. It is usually in a small isolated area if it appears. It will not tell you anything about your tank, or if you even have one, or the size and condition of the field. It is just simply impossible. Some of the many variables that will affect the outcome are: Was the system heavily used before the test or has it been sitting unused for an extended period of time? If a system has been sitting unused it can take days of use to saturate the field and still the chance of seeing the dye is slim. Has there been an extended dry weather period or has there been days of heavy rain? A lot of rain can tax an otherwise healthy system and dry weather can make a poor system work adequately. To illustrate I have heard it said that to determine if you have a good system or not based on a dye test is like looking under a car, that you want to purchase, for drips to determine if you are going to get a good car or not. What happens all to often is the dye test will be performed and months after the new home owners have moved in a dark smelly liquid starts appearing on the surface of the field. And by the way, unfortunately, that is the best way to tell that you have a system that needs work or not.
There are so many variables to consider. Are you an older couple purchasing a home from a family with three children? If they have had no problem with the system chances are good that you won't have problems. If the situation is reversed, you are a family of five, buying a house from a retired couple you should have your system thoroughly inspected.
Now, how about some encouraging words? Most counties that I am aware of in Northeast Kansas require the tank to be pumped and someone from the county will inspect the field. Many times the Health Department has a drawing of your system. To have a tank pumped, which should be done regularly anyway, can cost as little as $100.00 and is seldom over $300.00. The counties fee can run in the $150.00 range. The inspector uses a probe to locate the lines and will make a recommendation. Many times the system is fine. In some cases the recommendation may be to add another 100 feet of line or so which can be as little as $1000.00. A complete new system which is rarely needed may be $5000.00 - $7000.00. That is expensive on it's own but when you consider the cost of the property as a whole and the potential stress of a failing system it is money well spent to do it right. And just to repeat, it is seldom that work that extensive has to be done.
In conclusion, the dye test is a tool that in some cases can be useful. If the system is suspected of leaking into a stream or ditch through a pipe the dye is the right tool for the job. It will determine the connection between point A and point B. If your lender insists on the dye test and you are comfortable with it that is completely your decision. Most systems work fine. I can tell you that there are systems in the county I live in, that according to today's standards, are far from adequate but have been working fine for decades. I have worked on customer's systems that couldn't remember when the last time they had the system pumped or if they ever did, and it was still working. If the inspector tells you that you need to come up with some money to fix your system you may feel that you are throwing money away. However I can tell you if you are that person that starts noticing that black water come up in your field that you can smell over the entire property you will be looking for someone to give your money too. Just fix it!
Thanks, I welcome your comments.
My goal is to have a series of articles that deal with items that may be found on the home inspection report. There will also be articles on choosing a home inspector and a realtor. This information will be based on my experience in the construction industry as well as information I research. I welcome your comments. If you have a question or would like to see an article on a particular subject please ask.